Sierra Club Home Page   Environmental Update  
chapter button
Explore, enjoy and protect the planet
Click here to visit the Member Center.         
Take Action
Get Outdoors
Join or Give
Inside Sierra Club
Press Room
Politics & Issues
Sierra Magazine
Sierra Club Books
Apparel and Other Merchandise
Contact Us

Join the Sierra ClubWhy become a member?

Search Sierra:

  Sierra Magazine
  May/June 2008
Table of Contents
Savoring Wild Salmon
Are We There Yet?
No Do-Overs
The Tortoise and the Hare
Editor's Note
Ways & Means
One Small Step
Lay of the Land
Good Going
Comfort Zone
Mixed Media
The Green Life
Hey Mr. Green
Sierra Club Bulletin
Sierra Archives
About Sierra
Internships at Sierra
Advertising Information
Current Advertisers

Sierra Magazine
click here to print this article! click here to tell a friend
One Small Step: Gopher-B-Gone
May/June 2008

Alex Godbe (with Wookie), San Anselmo, California
Founder and director, Hungry Owl Project

"When I was interning at a wildlife rehabilitation center in San Rafael, California, I was shocked to see how many birds were being poisoned by pesticides or rodenticides. People put out poison to kill mice and gophers, but it works its way up the food chain and harms other wildlife. Cornell University scientists estimate that about 70 million birds are killed each year by pesticides.

"I thought that if owls can control rodent populations, why not use natural predators instead of poison? Owls are amazing--they can consume up to a third of their body weight per night, and a family of five can kill 3,000 rodents in one season.

"So I started the Hungry Owl Project to work with schools and build owl boxes, which we then sell to communities and businesses--particularly vineyards, golf courses, and ranches, where they have a real problem with gophers. In exchange, these businesses agree not to use poison.

"Owls find the boxes on their own, and since the boxes simulate their natural nests, they move right in. Volunteer tree climbers install the boxes and even put cameras inside some of them so that people can watch the owls on our Web site. We've installed more than 500 boxes and can't keep up with demand. We've gotten feedback from happy vineyard owners saying the owls, in conjunction with a nontoxic pest-control spray, are more effective than the toxic chemicals they were using before.

"When we go to schools to teach workshops, the kids have fun making the boxes, but the owls are the real stars. We have one named Wookie that we've brought on over 30 presentations, and the kids are fascinated by his huge eyes. I think owls are just the most mysterious, magical creatures. I always feel a sense of wonder in their presence." —interview by Orli Cotel

WHOO GOES THERE? Barn owls like Wookie can locate prey by sound alone. Their disk-shaped facial ruff channels sound into their asymmetrical ears, which allow the birds to pinpoint the source of any noise.

ON THE WEB For more information about owls, including peeks into their nests, visit or

Photo by Lori Eanes; used with permission.

Up to Top

HOME | Email Signup | About Us | Contact Us | Terms of Use | © 2008 Sierra Club